Insukshuk Park in Toronto with CN Tower in the background on a sunny autumn day.

Exploring Indigenous Art in Toronto

Published: October 10, 2023

Learning and gaining awareness about Indigenous cultures isn’t only possible at museums; there are festivals, events, and other celebrations to take part in across Toronto. One of the biggest showcases of Indigenous culture is the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival taking place from October 17–22 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto. And if you can’t make it in person, an online version of the Festival is available from October 23–29. imagineNATIVE Festival is the world’s largest Indigenous film and media arts festival, so you will not want to miss out! Get your tickets and learn about Indigenous art in Toronto.

With UP Express’ fast, convenient and affordable service, and trains running every 15 minutes between downtown Toronto and Pearson Airport, you can skip traffic and focus on your journey to immerse yourself in Indigenous culture as you plan your travel.

Attend the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Award show during imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

First launched in 2000, imagineNATIVE is globally recognized for its excellence in programming innovation and as a global centre for Indigenous media arts. It is also a registered charity that strives to cultivate a better understanding of Indigenous Peoples and cultures through media art created by Indigenous artists.

Attendees are invited to participate in both artistic and industry programs throughout the Festival. There are films, videos, digital, interactive, and audio content, all created by Indigenous writers, directors, producers, designers, and other artists. The programming is comprised of works that were selected from submissions, guest-generated programs, exhibitions created by partners, and other works.

The Festival is committed to creating a better environment for audiences to gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous Peoples, cultures, and their artistic expression, regardless of production budgets.

Tickets are available through the imagineNATIVE website. You will also be available for purchase in person at the Box Office at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from October 17–October 22, beginning one hour before the first screening of each day. Take advantage of PRESTO Perks and enjoy 10% off select screenings by showing your PRESTO card in person! 

The full program for the festival has been released, but here are some of the highlights:

  • Fancy Dance – An Opening Night film directed by Erica Tremblay that focuses on colonialism and a failed justice system.
  • Veins of the Amazon – A Feature Documentary, this Peruvian film directed by Alvaro Sarmiento and Terji Toomistu takes a close look at Indigenous communities struggling to survive on the banks of the Amazon River.
  • Starlight Sojourn – There are a series of shorts to enjoy, including this fascinating look into the Yukon. Directors Chantal Rousseau and Darcy Tara McDiarmid focus on the territory’s wildlife as they journey at night.
  • No Mãori Allowed – From New Zealand, this 44-minute film by Director Corinna Hunziker looks deep into a small rural town and its dark history with the Mãori people.
  • Hey, Viktor! – A Closing Night film directed by Cody Lightning that will give you remarkable insight into filmmaking, from a mockumentary angle.

Every year, imagineNATIVE honours some of the best submissions with awards including:

  • The August Schellenberg Award of Excellence, which has already been announced to be awarded to Jennifer Podemski, is based on career longevity and impact, professionalism, and work as a mentor and a community influence.
  • Innovation in Storytelling
  • Animated Short
  • Documentary Short
  • Documentary Feature
  • Narrative Audio
  • New Artist in Digital + Interactive
  • And many more!

Interested in attending? It’s easy with UP Express! Simply catch the train at any of the UP Stations – Pearson, Bloor, or Weston and get off at Union Station. You can then walk about 15 minutes to TIFF Bell Lightbox, or hop on the local transit, TTC, and get off at St. Andrew Station. The TIFF Bell Lightbox is only a short walk from there.

Indigenous Art Galleries and Museums

Indigenous culture is available across Toronto, throughout the year. Visit the following venues:

The Indigenous collection currently on display at the AGO includes works from First Nations (North America), Inuit, and Metis communities, as well as Indigenous art from other parts of the world, including Africa, Australia, and the Torres Strait Islands. Indigenous Art is the oldest in the world and the collection reflects both recent and historical practices. To see it for yourself, just hop on the TTC subway from Union Station to St. Patrick Station and walk a short distance to the museum.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is just one of the many museums and galleries in Toronto

Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

The Daphne Cockwell Gallery at the ROM that is dedicated to First Peoples art and culture features more than 1,000 works of art and displays of cultural heritage. These works originate from across Canada and the United States, including Alaska. The Gallery is multi-layered and illustrates what it means to be an Indigenous person in the modern world. PRESTO cardholders save 15% off admission to the ROM with PRESTO Perks! Take UP Express to Union Station, then hop on the TTC subway to Museum Station to see this exhibit.

Outside of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

This exhibition features a rotating exhibition space that showcases art from Indigenous communities across Canada. With the intention of creating conversations, TD aims to search out works that inspire meaningful relationships. To see this gallery, after arriving on UP Express to Union Station, just take The Path from Union and walk to the TD South Tower. Alternatively, you can take the virtual tour.

Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT)

With almost 60 years as a leader in constructing a healthy and vital Indigenous community in Toronto, the NCCT serves more than 2,000 clients a year as a membership-based, charitable organization. Take advantage of a free tour to explore the largest assortment of Canadian Indigenous artwork in Toronto. You’ll also learn about major landmarks and historical events that take place in the area. To visit, take UP Express to Union Station, then the TTC to Spadina Station.

McMichael Canadian Collection

Visit Kleinburg for art collections that focus solely on Indigenous and Canadian artwork. Immerse yourself in modern or historical artworks and collections featured in the McMichael Canadian Collection that have helped to shape today’s Canadian art landscape. McMichael is also the caretaker for the Cape Dorset archive, which contains more than 100,000 artworks from the Cape Dorset Inuit community. Begin your journey by viewing the online portal! To view in person, take UP Express to Union Station, then the TTC subway to St. George Station. From there until October 15, take the Art Bus to Kleinburg!

McMichael Canadian Collection sign outside surrounded by trees

Indigenous Murals, Theatre, and Products

Daniels Mural Project

Created in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report to fund and implement more Indigenous public art, the University of Toronto funded the Daniels Mural Project, a strategy to fulfill Call to Action #2 of the Commission’s report. Que Rock of Nipissing First Nation created the current temporary mural, which honours the 215 children whose unmarked graves were discovered in Kamloops, B.C. at a former residential school site. Reachable via subway from either UP Express’ Bloor (to Spadina Station) or Union Station (to Queen’s Park Station), the Project is located at 1 Spadina Cresent near the University of Toronto campus.

Paisajes de Nosotros (Landscapes of Us)

Launched in late 2022, Paisajes de Nosotros is a sprawling mural collaboration of Arctic and Amazon works, commissioned by Toronto Metropolitan University. Indigenous artists Niap (Nancy Saunders) and Olinda Reshijabe Silvano combined their skills to create a 12x8 meter mural that merges the traditions and cultures of both regions. Find this mural by taking a quick subway ride from UP Union Station to TTC Dundas Station and walking to the university campus. The mural is located at Kerr Hall West at Gould Street and Nelson Mandela Walk.

Lower Simcoe Street Murals

Originally a project that began in 2017, the Lower Simcoe Street Murals adorn the underpass along Lower Simcoe Street in Toronto’s downtown. Tannis Nielsen, the lead artist of Metis, Anishinaabe, and Danish ancestry, collaborated with young Indigenous artists to assist in finishing the project. From the Water Wall mural to the Elder/Honour wall, you’ll be awed by the intricate details and symbolism that the artwork represents. To see these murals, walk from UP Union Station down The Path to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Toronto Inukshuk Park

Head to Toronto’s waterfront to see Toronto Inukshuk Park, a legacy project that was created to commemorate World Youth Day in 2002. The Inukshuk is a key symbol for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and was commonly found in the Arctic as a spatial guide to travellers, both on land and at sea. At 30 feet high and 15 feet wide, the 50 tonnes of granite here make up one of the largest Inukshuk structures in North America. Created by celebrated Inuit artist Kellypalik Qimirpik from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, this display is a site to admire. To see it for yourself, take UP Express to Union Station, then transfer to the 509 TTC streetcar to Manitoba Drive and Strachan Avenue.

Insukshuk Park in Toronto with CN Tower in the background on a sunny autumn day.

Native Earth Performing Arts

If you’re looking for Indigenous theatre performances, then look no further than Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre company in action. Producing Indigenous theatre and artistic expression for more than 40 years, experience one of the many performances available to the public, either in person or online (for select shows). To check out the next performance, from Union Station, hop on the TTC Line 1 subway to Dundas Station, then transfer to the 505 streetcar to Regent Park Boulevard.

Native Arts Society

Enhance your wardrobe with authentic Indigenous clothing and other products from the Native Arts Society. Available to shop in person or via their online store, all proceeds from each sale go towards Native Arts Societies. The Society provides art supplies to Indigenous Peoples in need, as well as a venue to sell and store their artistic works. Entirely community-funded, the Native Arts Society relies on sales and donations to keep its doors open. Visit their physical store at 115 Church Street by taking the UP Express to Union Station, then the TTC subway to Queen Station. It’s a short walk from there!

There are many ways to see, enjoy, purchase, and support Indigenous art in Toronto and learn more about Indigenous cultures. With so many options in Toronto, it’s easy to attend and enjoy these various events, festivals, galleries, performances, and showcases by using UP Express.